Books Magazine

Guest Post: Alexander McNabb

By Donnambr @_mrs_b

We are delighted to welcome Alexander McNabb, author of Beirut. Alexander joins us to share the story behind writing his novel.

Guest Post

I started writing Beirut – An Explosive Thriller in late 2009, just after a British literary agent rejected my first novel, Olives – A Violent Romance after a ‘full read’ with the comment that it wasn’t dramatic enough. Right, I thought, yer bastard. If yer want dramatic…

I finished in June 2010, but it wasn’t until spring 2011 the book was picked up by literary agent Robin Wade, who signed me and shopped it to fourteen of London’s finest. Seven months later, to a man, they had rejected it. The rejection that hurt most praised the book’s qualities but noted the editor in question ‘couldn’t see it selling in supermarkets’.

“There are lots of elements to it that I like – there’s an austere, almost Le Carre feel which I like and the author can clearly write. The dialog and plotting stood out for me in particular. I’m afraid though that it is – for my purposes – a bit too low-key; the ‘commercial’ bit of my job title requires me to pick out titles which are going to appeal directly to supermarkets and the mass-market, and I feel that this would be too difficult a sell in that context. “

It was that reaction pushed me over the edge into self-publishing. There was clearly a major change – and massive contraction – taking place in the world of ‘traditional’ publishing and it wasn’t favouring a new author writing hard-to-peg novels about the Middle East.

Some of the editorial feedback had mentioned the book as ‘Set in Beirut, that war-torn city’. This was even more infuriating than the supermarket stuff, as Beirut – An Explosive Thriller is set in contemporary Beirut, well over 20 years after the civil war ended. It either spoke to a lack of care on the part of the editor, who hadn’t bothered to read the material before rejecting it – or to the sheer power of the ‘looks like Beirut’ meme.

Beirut Today

Beirut today is a complex city, sexy and shabby, filled with promise and hopeless, vibrant and drab, it rarely fails to entertain and challenge. Plagued by power cuts, creaking infrastructure and endemic corruption, Beirut is full of life, creativity and celebration – even if that celebration sometimes takes on a brittle, desperate air.

Beirut still bears the scars of the war – although they’re fading with the years, the deep-rooted problems of sectarianism and vested interest frequently combine to frustrate attempts to make the most of Lebanon’s rich natural and human resources. All too often, both are squandered.

Lebanon itself remains a country of three parts – to paint it with an impossibly broad brush, Muslim in the south, Druze in the mountains and Christian to the north. It constantly teeters on the edge of a precipice of its own making. Israel to its south and Syria bordering inland are rarely helpful influences.

It’s the perfect place for Northern Irish spy Gerald Lynch, wilfully unconventional and wild as he is.

In Olives – A Violent Romance, the reader only saw Lynch through Paul Stokes’ eyes and that certainly wasn’t a sympathetic viewpoint. In Beirut we get to see Lynch in the round, including his own circle of friends and colleagues, from tired-eyed policeman Tony Chalhoub through to smouldering beauty (and cathouse madam) Marcelle Aboud. And then there’s fat Palmer from the embassy and the wily Brian Channing, deputy director for security and public affairs. We also start to uncover some of Lynch’s backstory, the kid on the Falls Road they called Gerry.


One thing that has amazed me over the course of writing Beirut – An Explosive Thriller is that I haven’t been arrested. My Google life has been extraordinary and has mostly involved things like weapons, military assets, intelligence, police and other deeply dodgy stuff.

I can’t imagine how writers did this stuff before Google – they must have spent months in the library, ordering books and poring through piles of obsessive esoterica. Actually, come to think of it, I have ordered books and stuff – some of which (I didn’t realize until too late) had the potential to attract unwelcome attention down at Sharjah Post Office, too! Luckily the customs chaps there have long had me down as a harmless eccentric, so they don’t look too closely at the books I bring into the country. Living foreign, as I do, in the Arab World you tend to find people can cut up rough about books on Mossad operations, papers on intelligence and other dodgy doohickeys!

I’ve also depended on the expertise of a number of people as well as quite a lot of walking around that most glorious of cities in the company of various lovely colleagues or on my tod. There’s nothing quite like just walking around a great city and Beirut certainly rewards the experience with an enduring intensity.

Put it all together and you have a demonstrable track record of a deeply unhealthy interest in a lot of things that go bang and otherwise kill people. That includes an awful lot of phone calls and emails with people centering on military helicopters, missile systems and toxic substances and a nasty obsession with the military and intelligence services of a number of countries. As well as mooching around certain cities day and night taking photographs and generally just acting strangely.

Nobody’s batted an eyelid. I’m not sure whether I’m relieved or worried…

About Beirut (2012)
Michel Freij is a powerful man. But he wants more. Two hundred kilotons more.

Michel Freij is poised to become the next president of Lebanon. The billionaire businessman’s calls for a new, strong regional role for the country take on a sinister note when European intelligence reveals Freij has bought two aging Soviet nuclear warheads from a German arms dealer. 

Maverick British intelligence officer Gerald Lynch has to find the warheads, believed to be on board super-yacht the Arabian Princess, before they can reach Lebanon. Joined by Nathalie Durand, the leader of a French online intelligence team, Lynch is pitched into a deadly clash with Freij and his violent militia as he pursues the Arabian Princess across the Mediterranean.

Beirut – An Explosive Thriller sweeps through Lebanon, Hamburg, Prague, Malta, Albania and the Greek Islands on its journey to a devastating climax.

Amazon USAmazon UKGoodreads About Alexander McCall
Alexander McNabb
Alexander McNabb has been working in, living in and traveling around the Middle East for over 25 years. Formerly a journalist, editor and magazine publisher, today he spends his time advising companies on their communications strategies, with a particular focus on digital and online communications.

Alexander is a frequent conference speaker, chair and moderator, particularly on issues around online and digital communications. He co-hosts a weekly radio show and is a frequent commentator on developments in the technology and online spheres. When he’s not writing books, he’s posting half-thoughts and snippets on his blog, Fake Plastic Souks, which he started in 2007 during the Arab Media Forum. The title refers to the ‘new’ souks of Dubai, so much more convenient and classy than the real ones.


Guest Post: Alexander McNabb | Thank you for reading Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dave

Guest Post: Alexander McNabb
Guest Post: Alexander McNabb
Guest Post: Alexander McNabb
Guest Post: Alexander McNabb
Guest Post: Alexander McNabb
Guest Post: Alexander McNabb

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